Category Archives: Other Technology

Other Technology

JamStik+ Kickstarter Campaign Begins Today!

I will begin this post with a simple statement and a link. The JamStik+ began on KickStarter today, and met its goal in just over three hours. The promotion is still underway, and for the first 48 hours, you can buy a JamStik+ for $100 off retail. If you are interested, the link is: http://kck.st/18XReLB. Even if you miss the first 48 hours, you can still “buy in” at a lower cost during the campaign.

Now…for the interesting stuff. The JamStik was created in nearby (for me) Minneapolis, with a combined effort of guitar players and engineers (and some mixture of the two), and was funded, in part, by an earlier Indiegogo campaign (2013, which raised about $180,000). The goal from the start was to create a wireless, portable guitar that could act as both a instructional tool for guitar and as a MIDI controller. It was never meant to be a guitar replacement, and the device, which finally shipped in the fall of 2014, did everything that it said it would do. Along with the device, Zivix (the company behind JamStik) came up with new wireless protocols, developed a wireless MIDI device (Puc), and released three iOS apps, one needed to connect the JamStik (JamStik Connect), one as a instructional “game” (JamTutor), and one mixing app (JamMix).

If you bought a JamStik–via Indiegogo or afterwards–you were likely happy with the purchase. It met every promised characteristics. There were a few hard core guitarists that weren’t happy, but again, they were looking for the JamStik to be a guitar replacement, not a tool for instruction or a MIDI tool for guitarists.

A few music educators saw the JamStik and realized its potential for the classroom. It is safe to say that education has ALWAYS been a part of the JamStik, but the vision has been 1:1 versus a classroom setting. Through a combination of fundraising, some help from my school, and some help from Zivix, we have a set of nine JamStiks that I have been able to use with students this year–and although there have been some challenges, I am excited about the potential of the device. The devices are rugged (withstanding abuse), the batteries last for more than a week of use across various classes, and the software works well. Sure, I have some items on the “wish list,” but the updates to the JamStik firmware have been wonderful (changing a D-Pad function to a capo, for example) and the company continues to develop and refine its apps.

This is the part of the KickStarter that might be missed in the campaign…for every 15 JamStik+ units that are sold, 1 will be donated to education. Take a look:

How great is that? Not only can you purchase a JamStik+ at a discount, you can also be a part of a donation to an educational group (this could mean a school, or another educational setting).

Now that it is 2015, there are only 2 potential setbacks to the original JamStik (from ancient 2014), which of course still works perfectly. The first is that Apple released Bluetooth MIDI in iOS 8 and OS X Yosemite, which changes how you interface with a MIDI device. The JamStik+ is a low energy Bluetooth device, so it can connect to Bluetooth MIDI enabled apps (on iOS or Mac) without any background app (or cables). The original JamStik acted as a wireless router, and truthfully, the connection process (although simple) was the hardest part about using a JamStik (In other words, a pain point, but a very, very small one).

The other limitation of the original JamStik was criticism from “real” guitarists, who wanted the device to be able to handle pull-offs and some other guitar techniques. These are not techniques that we use in guitar classes–so they are not really a limitation for anything we do. Zivix answered that concern by adding a pickup to the JamStik, which will result in even greater accuracy and sensitivity, as well as allow for some advanced guitar techniques.

The addition for Bluetooth MIDI is the big point for me–it’s a game changer in simplicity, not only for the JamStik, but for ANY MIDI device. Yes, a Bluetooth MIDI Guitar controller for $199 (KickStarter 48 hour price) is worth the cost of an upgrade (and any price point is worth the investment, if you play guitar).

Do you play guitar and write your own music? Then you need this device and either Progression or Notion on your iPad. You won’t regret it. If you have been thinking about a JamStik–now is the time to buy one. If you believe in the product, how about sponsiring $5, or buying the JamStik “goodies” pack. Either way…act soon. The campaign lasts 42 more days, and although some offers will end, some discounts will be available until the end of the campaign.

 

 

 

 

Cheap Impostor

I have been very busy with family over the holiday break–but I purposely put our first concert just after the holidays (January 13th this year) to avoid the “clog” of holiday conflicts and to give my students a few more days to live with their music (this approach isn't always successful). As a result, one of the things I have been doing is preparing our printed concert program.

One of the best tools I have found–for Mac (sorry, Windows users) is an app called “Cheap Impostor.” You can find it at www.cheapimpostor.com. This app takes full page PDFs and converts them to booklets of various sizes. It automatically formats your program into a booklet, placing pages where they belong based on the order of your original document. Therefore, even though you might have four pages per “finished” page, all the pages go where they are supposed to be in a booklet. Most of my programs end up with eight or more pages (by the time you add class lists), so this app has been a problem solver.

I like making programs that are the size of a page of paper folded in half (5.5″ x 8.5″), and Cheap Impostor does this. I have also used Cheap Impostor to make master copies of documents where the final program is a 17″x11″ page folded in half.

The massive benefit is that you don't have to mess with columns to create your program (although I do use tables to make my class lists), and when the PDF is converted to a booklet (which can be printed or generated as a PDF), you have great control (if you pay the $35) to adjust the location of the orginal PDF on the page, gutters, and even the zoom level of the orginal PDF.

I can't imagine why anyone that makes a multi-page program wouldn't want to use this program (this is a Mac App, only avaialble online–not the Mac App Store), from music groups to churches.

That's my tip for today–one that is worth noting. At some point, I will also post a demonstration of how I make tabs for my concert programs (having a dotted line between the title and the composer). As far as I can tell, Pages on iOS is not yet able to do this, so my program work is all done on Mac.

mi.1 Wireless MIDI Interface

When is the last time you bought something on a whim, and you were happy that you did so?

Several months ago, one of the projects I was backing on a crowdfunding site (I can't remember if it was a Kickstarter or Indiegogo project) sent out an e-mail recommending another project, the mi.1.

The mi.1, if you look at its Indiegogo page or company website (Quicco Sound), is a small device that plugs into existing keyboards, creating a wireless MIDI interface between the keyboard and an iPad. The “cost” of backing was $35 at the time, and I figured that I couldn't go wrong backing the device.

That device shipped out in October, but some issues with the required app for the device kept the company from releasing the app until this week. Now the mi.1 connect app is available on the App Store, and I can finally use my mi.1.

The mi.1 uses Bluetooth LE to connect your keyboard and your iPad (or iPhone). This was the first time I have used Bluetooth LE, and I'm a bit surpised by it. You don't turn anything on in your Settings…the devices simply talk to each other. I'm a little concerned that some harmful things could be transmitted in such a way (not from the mi.1, but from other Bluetooth LE “senders” out in public), but all the old frustrations of Bluetooth pairing are gone.

The first time you connect the mi.1, you are asked to open the mi.1 app, connect to the device, turn Bluetooth off and then back on, and then update the firmware of the mi.1. This is a twenty second process, and you're good to go.

My initial attempts to use the mi.1 with notation software on my iPad failed, but later attempts were successful (I have been using Notion for most of this testing). The video I created shows me entering notes through my keyboard via the mi.1 to Notion. Latency seems to be good…and it seems slightly faster (i.e. “normal” to send data to the iPad than it does to send data from the iPad to keyboard. I haven't figured out how to make Notion (on the iPad) play back via the mi.1/keyboard.

In 2009, we built a new high school with an embedded seventeen seat MIDI Lab. Every computer had a M-Audio Keystation plus a microphone for each keyboard. These computers (and the furniture in the room) were eventually removed to put computers in every practice room as well as the rehearsal rooms, and the keyboards were distributed throughout the district to teachers who needed them. The keyboards were not Core-MIDI compliant and would not work with iPads. (Interestingly, with the termination of Windows XP support, the computers themselves are no longer useable, and the iPads we purchased while I was at that school are now the only way for students to use SmartMusic in the practice rooms. I would have not expected that sequence of events).

The mi.1 changes the usefulness of those keyboards–and all other non-Core MIDI compliant keyboards, plus it gives you a way to connect a keyboard to your iPad without any MIDI cables. I am not sure what the street price of the mi.1 will be, but if the device is priced less than $50, it will be a cheaper solution than the purchase of a dedicated Lightning to USB Camera Kit adapter and a Lightning cable, and it already is cheaper than most MIDI box solutions (iPad or otherwise). At the moment, the mi.1 cannot work with a Mac, but I see no reason why it could not do so eventually.

There is one other item of great promise…Apple included MIDI over Bluetooth LE as a core component of iOS 8 (and I would be willing to bet that it is hiding in Yosemite as well). The mi.1, in a future update, will be able to connect directly to your iPad without the need for the mi.1 app, directly through MIDI via Bluetooth LE.

Are there any problems with the device? Not really. Some thoughts:

  • The company is from Japan, so communication from the company, both on the website and in materials provided by the company, is a little awkward in English. You can tell that the translators are not fluent English speakers, and Google Translate may even be in play. The company would be well-suited to hire some English experts (or even a British, Australian, Canadian, or American team) to re-work all communications intended for English settings.
  • Although the company missed its deadlines and had some issues with their app before releasing the app, they were much closer to reaching their Indiegogo deadline than other items I have backed.
  • Documentation with the device was limited; some people need much more detailed instructions–even for a product that is simple.
  • I don't have the equipment to test latency…which I imagine will improve as the device can accept input from the mi.1 without the middle-man app.
  • There is a coming update that will allow you to attach to multiple mi.1 units!
  • I, of course, focus on music notation apps as a music educator. I would imagine that this device would be very exciting for iOS musicians. For example, it works with GarageBand.

The device isn't available yet for purchase…but when it is, it is worth a purchase if you plan to use your iPad with a keyboard that has traditional MIDI connections. Those connections are 30 years old…and this device makes them relevant again. I didn't think this $35 crowdfunded device would have much of an impact on my life…I think I was wrong. It may be the best $35 I have spent for a while.

 

Some More Changes At MakeMusic

Last year was a huge year of change at MakeMusic. The company was acquired and went private (off the stock market). This was followed by some changes in the leadership team (two VPs were let go, one VP, Michael Good, was brought on the team) and other levels of management were also impacted (both program managers of Finale and SmartMusic were let go). In addition to the changes, SmartMusic (in particular) had a rough first half of the 2013-2014 school year with a number of technical issues.

As with all things in life, a lot of good things happened, too. Finale 2014 was released with a number of new features, a lot of new code, and backwards compatible file formats; SmartMusic continuted to grow in functionality on the iPad, and now SmartMusic also shares backwards compatible files. Michael Good discussed many of these improvements on a recent blog post (link).

Today brought news about another big change at MakeMusic. MakeMusic is coming under the umbrella of Peaksware, Inc. Peaksware was behind the acquisition last year, and MakeMusic will continue to exist as a brand of Peaksware. I had the chance to chat with Gear Fisher, the CEO of Peaskware, for a few moments and to ask some questions about the immediate future of MakeMusic.

Ultimately, this change won’t likely impact the typical Finale or SmartMusic user very much. The biggest change is that the company will be moving from Minnesota to Colorado (plans are to do this in Quarter 1), and the company is assessing personnel right now. A number of employees will be asked to join the company in Colorado, and those employees will have to make a personal decision to move or not. After this past winter in Minnesota, I don’t know why anyone, given the chance to move, would stay here.

I find myself to be sad that MakeMusic will be moving–it has always been wonderful to have MakeMusic (or its predecessor, Coda Music Technology) as a “local company.” At some level, it is a personal sadness, because I would have enjoyed working at MakeMusic as a local company (As part of a blended family and all that entails, we cannot move out of the area). It isn’t often that you find companies filled with good people that are passonate about the meeting point of technology and music education.

Beyond that, Finale will continue to improve, SmartMusic will continue to improve, and the company should be better positioned to exist and compete in the future. This was the ideal time for such an announcement, as all of the turmoil from the acquisition last year has finally settled down and the products are stable. Jobs will be moving (or created) in another state (not outsourced to another country), and I hope that a majority of the development teams–including some leadership–will stay in place, albeit in another location. The end result of today’s announcment is that there won’t be much of a change for the end user, but there will be big changes ahead for all of the 130+ staff employed by MakeMusic.

I wish all of the MakeMusic team the very best. For those that will be moving to Colorado, best wishes for the process of relocation and as you continue to develop and refine MakeMusic products. And to those who choose to stay in Minnesota, best wishes as you search for new positions. To all of you: your work (including those that have worked in the company in the past) has made a significant impact on music and music education. Thank you for your work! And best wishes to Mr. Fisher, as he takes on the role as CEO over MakeMusic through this position as CEO of Peaksware.

One additional note that might be of interest to music educators: I had opportunity to ask Mr. Fisher about his own musical background, and he had been a saxophone player in his school days. He did, however, state that his current experience with SmartMusic comes from his own home, where his 11 year old daughter is learning the clarinet. She is using SmartMusic as part of that process. It is encouraging to know that the CEO of the company–if not using the software himself–is seeing the software used as it was meant to be used. That experience will offer him fantastic insight into the product for years to come.

MyScript Online Handwritten Notation Converter

Can you remember back to early 2013, when a company announced a revolutionary app that would covert handwritten notation into digital notation? The app was actually a concept–and was a promotional video that went viral in the world of music education technology. Ultimately, it turned out that the commercial was using existing technologies to show a “proof of concept,” with the hopes of generating a crowd-funded app.

The app never reached its required level of funding, and the company changed courses, selling copies of the app in advance as they worked on handwriting analysis, audio sounds, and so on. Sadly, the company announced this past March that their developer had quit and that they were going to attempt to keep working on the product–but would be returning reservations and so on. For all intents and purposes, it was a “the end” letter (see note below).

Meanwhile, another company–Neuratron–introduced a music handwriting recongition app (NotateMe — Now $39.99, and it also scans music for an additional $29.99 in-app purchase–a free one-staff trial version of the app is also available) in January of 2014.

At the time that ThinkMusicTechnology was attemping to fund their app, they had two partners–MyScript, the makers of several handwriting based apps, including MyScript Calculator (it's cool…try it) and Adonit (makers of a good line of precision styluses). I thought that the ThinkMusicTechnology app had a strong chance to make it, particularly because of their relationship with MyScript.

Today, MuseScore (of all organizations) retweeted an announcement about the MyScript music notation HTML 5 web app. It works on all devices, and although audio doesn't play back on the iPad–it works. Go try it out. I wish you could resize the handwriting area–and MusicXML export is a bit odd, as it pulls up a separate page with the actual MusicXML coding (not a downloadable or “open in” file). My guess is that this is the engine that was supposed to be behind the ThinkMusicTechnology app, and since that app is not around, MyScript still wanted to do something with all that work.

So…try it out. Make a bookmark to the page. And to those of you in 1:1 schools, this might be another option for notation (obviously, it will be easier to draw on a touch based machine, which could mean Windows 8.1 devices, Android, or even the rare Chromebook touchscreen computers.

Is this going to replace NotateMe for my workflow? Not a chance, particularly with NotateMe Now available for free (for use with students)–plus NotateMe also has PhotoScore (which is a game changer). However, the HTML 5 approach is a positive development–and perhaps it is something MyScript can license to other programs (Noteflight, perhaps?). And it might be a good time for some of the exisiting notation products (Finale, Sibelius, Notion, even the coming Steinberg program) to consider an acquistion of a platform that works for the “next generation” of notation entry.

These are exciting times—there is always something new out there to try!

 

Note: I have said this before, about Symphony Pro…which was resurrected and is available again. That said, take my analysis with a grain of salt.

 

 

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